Brownsville, Harlingen shelters host feasts for those in need

Loaves & Fishes Executive Director Victor Rivera, left, and TKO San Benito founder and president David Leija, pose behind a pile of Thanksgiving turkeys donated by TKO for Loaves & Fishes' annual feast. (Courtesy photo)
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It’s the time of year when the prospect of a serious feast looms large, and when charity organizations and homeless shelters go all out to make sure those less fortunate don’t get left out.

In the Lower Rio Grande Valley, those groups include the Good Neighbor Settlement House and the Ozanam Center in Brownsville and Loaves & Fishes of the RGV in Harlingen.

Victor Rivera, executive director of Loaves & Fishes, 514 S. “E” St. in Harlingen, said the week before Thanksgiving that his organization’s community feed was scheduled for Nov. 21 at 3-5 p.m.

“Think of it like Feast of Sharing, but at Loaves & Fishes,” he said. “Anybody can come to eat, no questions asked. We’re going to have plenty of food prepared. It happens every year. It’s our tradition.”

Last year 587 people showed up and this year Loaves & Fishes is “aiming for a little over 600,” Rivera said.

“We’re going to do it in waves,” he said. “We’re already requesting tables from friends so we can make sure we have enough tables and chairs. We have enough for about half.”

Rivera said Loaves & Fishes is good at estimating attendance and never runs out of food for the annual feed.

“We’ve been doing it for many years now as a soup kitchen, so we’re pretty good at calculating the meal count, so we don’t foresee that being an issue,” he said.

The organization will take about 200 meals up to its satellite location in Raymondville, where the search was still on for space for a proper sit-down meal, Rivera said.

Loaves & Fishes had been seeing a spike in donations in recent days, he said.

“We’ve seen a big increase,” Rivera said. “As a matter of fact, today we’ve had people coming in from the community with bags. We’ve had schools come in, companies, clubs.”

Food donations come from many sources. Plains Capital Bank organized a canned-food drive for Loaves & Fishes, for instance, and former state senator Eddie Lucio Jr.’s office donated 15 turkeys, Rivera said.

Victor Maldonado, executive director of the Ozanam Center, said the facility’s more than 220 or so residents got a Thanksgiving luncheon on Nov. 16 and that 250 turkeys were handed out to community residents the day before. The turkeys came from the Food Bank of the RGV and were much appreciated, though pre-pandemic Ozanam would hand out 400 or 450, though they’re in shorter supply now, he said.

“Our food pantry day is on Wednesday, but we had people calling since Friday, Monday, Tuesday wanting to know if we were going to give out turkeys,” he said. “We had a big line.”

Astrid Dominguez, executive director for Good Neighbor, said community groups were coming to serve a special Thanksgiving luncheon to the shelter’s clients from 12:30-1:30 p.m. on Nov. 21 and Nov. 22, then Good Neighbor itself was planning a big Thanksgiving dinner for its clients Wednesday from 4:30-5:30 p.m.

The meals are made possible by community donations of turkeys and other Thanksgiving essentials.

Good Neighbor normally serves three meals a day free to clients, 100 to 120 of whom come to eat at any given meal, though she’s expecting a slightly bigger crowd for Thanksgiving, especially with kids out of school on vacation, she said. The Thanksgiving feast, meanwhile, is extremely popular with Good Neighbor’s clientele, Dominguez said.

“It’s not just that it’s popular, but there is a need, and we continue to see the need every day,” she said. “The numbers have definitely not decreased in terms of who we’re serving. We try to make it extra special for them.”